The contents of the report constitute grisly details of gross human rights violations by the Sheikh Hasina regime. The details provided in the report are specific and damning. This alone could go a long way to hit the ruling Awami League regime hard and at a time when the country is headed for sham elections slated for January 7, 2024.
Following are extracts of the report, titled ‘2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh’: (Read the full report here https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/bangladesh/)
The security forces encompassing the national police, border guards, and counterterrorism units such as the Rapid Action Battalion, maintain internal and border security.
The military has some domestic security responsibilities. The security forces report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the military reports to the Ministry of Defence. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were reports members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detentions; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by a relative; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and enforcement of or threat to enforce criminal libel laws to limit expression; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, workplace violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and other forms of such violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups or Indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; significant restrictions on independent trade unions and workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining; and existence of the worst forms of child labour.
There were numerous reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses and corruption. The government took few measures to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials or security force members who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption.
Respect for the Integrity of the Person
A. ARBITRARY DEPRIVATION OF LIFE AND OTHER UNLAWFUL OR POLITICALLY MOTIVATED KILLINGS
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Police policy requires internal investigations of all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the inspector general of police.
The government, however, neither released official statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took transparent measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism regarding the independence and professional standards of the units conducting these assessments and claimed citizens were being deprived of justice. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment.
Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity, drugs, and illegal firearms. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces members frequently denied their role in such deaths.
They claimed that when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify coconspirators, accomplices fired on police, police returned fire and, in the ensuing gunfight, the suspect was killed.
The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings.” Media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media claimed many of these crossfire incidents constituted extrajudicial killings.
Human rights organizations claimed in some cases law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.
Extrajudicial killings dramatically decreased from the previous year. Domestic human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 19 individuals died in alleged extrajudicial killings or while in custody, including four in so-called crossfires with law enforcement agencies and eight due to physical torture before or while in custody.
According to another domestic human rights organization, of 25 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and September, four deaths resulted from law enforcement crossfire killings, 10 persons were shot to death by law enforcement officers, and 10 others died from alleged torture while in custody.
In March domestic think tank Centre for Governance Studies released a report analyzing cases of extrajudicial killing between 2019 and 2021.
The report claimed police, particularly the Detective Branch, were involved in more extrajudicial killings (51.2 percent of cases) than the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) (28.8 percent of cases).
The report noted the number of extrajudicial killings in Cox’s Bazar was far higher than the rest of the country.
In November media reported Shaheen Miah was killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB in Rupganj in Narayanganj district near Dhaka city. In April media reported Mohammad Raju was killed in an alleged crossfire gunfight with the RAB in Comilla. A few days later, a second incident of alleged extrajudicial killing occurred when Kaiser Ahmed was killed in a gunfight with the RAB in Manikganj.
In January a Cox’s Bazar court handed down the death sentence to two of the officers accused of killing retired army Major “Sinha” Mohammad Rashed Khan, with six others receiving life sentences. In 2020, police in Cox’s Bazar allegedly shot and killed Khan at a checkpoint.
The court acquitted seven individuals due to a lack of credible evidence. At the time of the incident, Sinha’s killing generated intense public discussion on police, extrajudicial killings, and other law enforcement excesses. The January court decision was the first guilty verdict for an alleged “crossfire killing.”
Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. Between January and September, a local human rights organization reported 16 persons were victims of enforced disappearances.
The government made limited efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts. Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents.
Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge and arrested others. In May international rights organizations International Federation of Human Rights and the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, along with domestic rights groups Mayer Daak and Odhikar, issued a public letter claiming government-sponsored enforced disappearances against human rights advocates continued in the wake of December 2021 U.S. sanctions imposed upon RAB officials.
The letter stated the families of disappeared individuals received frequent intimidation and threats for speaking out. Political opposition alleged police forces did not register complaints from families of those subjected to enforced disappearances.
In April Mayer Daak (Mother’s Call), an organization of members of the families of victims of enforced disappearances, held a press conference where it stated enforced disappearances continued unabated, particularly cases involving opposition party members.
In August the organization alleged members of the ruling Awami League party had been uploading fabricated images on social media to malign the characters of female members of the victims’ families.
In January Human Rights Watch released a statement condemning the government’s dismissal of criticism in response to allegations of rampant enforced disappearances. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2022 Country Report noted “a range of human rights abuses by law enforcement agencies – including enforced disappearances, custodial deaths, arbitrary arrests, and torture – have continued unabated.”
In March the Centre for Governance Studies launched a report analyzing 71 cases of enforced disappearances between 2019 and 2021. According to the report, the RAB was responsible for 40 percent of the disappearances and the Detective Branch of the national police was responsible for 30 percent.
The report claimed a third of the disappearance cases were from Dhaka, with most victims being politicians and businesspersons. Students made up 11 percent of the victims.
In June the High Court suspended court proceedings against photojournalist and news editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who faced three charges that were first filed in 2020 under the Digital Security Act (DSA).
Allegedly, the government forcibly detained Kajol in 2020 and did so incognito for 53 days. Kajol spent a total of 237 days in prison on defamation charges and was released on interim bail in December 2020.
The June suspension of proceedings followed a primary hearing on three appeals made by Kajol. The cases were ongoing.
In May the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) reviewed previously submitted cases of potential enforced disappearance. The UN body is investigating a total of 81 cases of enforced disappearance in the country.
Earlier in the year, the WGEID noted the government provided information regarding some cases of enforced disappearance, but the WGEID did not consider that information sufficient to determine the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons.
The WGEID reported receiving complaints regularly concerning disappearances, mostly relating to alleged disappearances of members of opposition political parties.
C. TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT, AND OTHER RELATED ABUSES
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and media reported security forces, including those from the intelligence services, police, and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement agencies, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
The law allows a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect may take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged many instances of torture occurred during remand.
Some victims who filed cases under the Torture and Custodial (Prevention) Act were reportedly harassed and threatened, while some were forced to withdraw their cases due to fear.
According to multiple organizations, including the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT), security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties.
These forces reportedly used beatings with iron rods, kneecappings, electric shock, rape and other sexual abuse, and mock executions. Numerous organizations also claimed security forces were involved in widespread and routine commission of torture, occasionally resulting in death, for the purpose of soliciting payment of bribes or obtaining confessions.
In March the UNCAT released a statement criticizing the government for its lack of response to its 2019 report, calling on the government to recognize torture as an “urgent concern”; to “cease engaging in the practice of unacknowledged detention”; and to set up an independent commission of inquiry into the RAB.
According to international and local civil society, activists, and media, impunity was a pervasive problem in the security forces, including within but not limited to the RAB, Border Guards Bangladesh, Detective Branch of Police, and other units.
Politicization of crimes, corruption, and lack of independent accountability mechanisms were significant factors contributing to impunity, including for custodial torture. While police are required to conduct internal investigations of all significant abuses, civil society organizations alleged investigative mechanisms were not independent and did not lead to justice for victims.
In February media reported Ujir Mia died after alleged torture in police custody. Police arrested Mia on charges of stealing cows, and witnesses arrested with Mia stated police brutally beat him and hung him upside down.
After Mia’s death, villagers blocked a local highway for three hours, demanding punishment of the police officers. In March news stories reported a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) died at the hospital while undergoing treatment hours after he was picked up and interrogated by the RAB.
During UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s August visit to the country, she called for “an impartial, independent, and transparent investigation” into allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.
Bachelet also called for the country to rethink its position with regards to its nonparty status to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, pointing out, “Bangladesh is party to all the core UN human rights treaties, except for it.”
On June 26, a joint statement made by several human rights organizations, including Odhikar and the International Federation for Human Rights, condemned acts of torture performed by police, with Odhikar reporting 90 individuals were tortured to death between November 2013 and May 2022.
The joint statement includes condemnation of inaction by the government, claiming, “torture, both physical and mental, has become an institutionalized practice in the country.”